Samsung Blew Me Away At Unpacked 2019

By Patrick Moorhead - February 26, 2019
Samsung smartphone lead DJ Koh. PATRICK MOORHEAD

Last week, I attended Samsung’s Unpacked event in San Francisco and am attending Mobile World Congress 2019 this week. Held on practically the eve of MWC Barcelona, Samsung utilized Unpacked to unveil an impressive new array of devices (yes, including that foldable phone you’ve been hearing so much about). I wanted to talk about a few of the bigger product announcements today, and offer my take on them.

The Galaxy S10

Overall, I like where Samsung made its investments into the Galaxy 10 lineup. The S10 features a number of sexy add-ons, such as the world’s first Dynamic AMOLED display, which is HDR10+ and VDE-certified for extremely high image quality. You can watch YouTube in HDR+ and there will be more content in the future from Amazon. The display also has a ridiculously good contrast ration of 2M:1, compared to 1.3K:1 for TFT.  Additionally, the S10 features a notchless, edge-to-edge Infinity-O display, which will allow users to fully take advantage of most all of their screen real estate.

On maximizing space, the display also features a first-of-its-kind in-display fingerprint scanner capable of reading the 3D contours of users’ thumb and fingerprints. I was pleasantly surprised at the under-display ultrasonic fingerprint reader—while other phones have under-display, this is the first volume phone with ultra-sonic. I believe users will love this feature and by using the ultrasonic technology, these phones should be more secure. Fingerprint readers on the back of a device don’t work well and many users get rejections with the current 3D face login technology.

The Galaxy S10’s camera represents another step up for the Galaxy line. It sports an ultrawide, 123-degree lens, which improves on other wide angle systems with the ability to shoot panoramas with minimal clipping on the bottom. It also features digital stabilization technology for video recording, and the ability to capture UHD-quality content with both front and rear-facing cameras. The rear camera can even record in HDR10+. The S10 camera is “smart’ in that its features are enhanced by a neural processing unit, reducing the need to toggle advanced settings manually. My favorite is “Scene detector” where it will sense what you are taking a picture of and optimize the scene for it. I like the way it optimizes outdoor scenes with the blue sky and for indoor presentations. The camera even features an Instagram mode, making it easier to share directly from the camera—I think this feature is going to market great as it saves time posting “Instas”.

In addition to these flashier upgrades, the S10 also features other practical enhancements, such as improved performance, battery life, and Wireless PowerShare. PowerShare lets me share my phone battery with other Qi-fortified smartphones and Samsung watches and Buds. I really love this feature.  The S10 also features AI software that optimizes the device for processor performance, battery, RAM, device temperature, and more, based on individual user habits. It will prelad applications it knows you use at different times of the day and put others to sleep you never use.

The S10 comes in three flavors—the classic S10 , the S10e (more compact, flat screen), and the turbocharged S10+ (which offers heightened specs on all of the S10’s premium features). I’m glad that Samsung introduced multiple models—some may call it confusing, but as markets mature, companies need to segment product lines more and more, with certain sets of features at certain prices. This is the way the auto industry operates, and why it is still profitable. In addition to these three S10 models, there is a bonus 4th model which I will talk about shortly (hint: think 5G).

Galaxy Fold

Okay, let’s talk about the Fold. The tech world has been abuzz about Samsung’s futuristic, first-of-its-kind 7.3 Infinity Flex Display, which folds into compact device with a front cover display. This new form factor is a big deal. Simply put, users want more display area to do more with their phone. Remember when smartphone displays were 4”? Now think about the 6” displays and how much more users do with their phones now—emails, surfing the web, watching videos and playing games. The experience promises to be even better with a larger, 7.3" display and Samsung presented some very compelling use cases. While I don't think the experience will be absolutely "perfect," it doesn't have to be. Future iterations will improve. I do believe the experience will be better than the first "phablets" and any other announced foldable. At $1,980, it is a super-premium niche product—nevertheless, I believe it will sell out and become a status symbol. I have held Fold, and it feels great, but I really need some  more use time to render a verdict. Foldables are tough material science and hard to fold many times without creases or damaging the unit. Unlike other foldable companies, Samsung owns the displays and believe will be the first company to figure it out.  

Galaxy S10 5G

The fourth, “bonus” Galaxy S10 announced the event was the S10 5G—the company’s first 5G-ready flagship phone. It supports Sub6 5G and the fastest mmWave 5G. Samsung invited the Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg joined the stage in what I took as a Samsung priority 5G partner. The irony is that AT&T has mmWave up and running in many cities already and Verizon does not. I don’t quite understand the rationale (was it fake “5Ge”), but AT&T assures me they will have Samsung 5G phones.

I was surprised Samsung announced a 5G phone at Unpacked, as I thought it would wait until MWC. It's a larger device, too, with a 6.7" Infinity-O display—the biggest display of the entire S series—and a larger battery. Still, impressively, it is just as slim as the other Galaxy 10s. Remember when the critics there would be no way to put 5G mmWave into phone with good battery life?

The larger display will be very beneficial, given the high-quality entertainment options 5G promises to enable. It also features a world-facing, sensing, 3D depth camera, which I believe will do much to sell the device. Samsung didn’t say a lot about what the world facing AR camera can do, but my assumption is it can do anything ARCore can do. This phone seals the deal—Samsung is going big on 5G.

Galaxy Buds

Samsung announced several additions to its wearable lineup, including the Galaxy Watch Active smartwatch, and the slimmer Galaxy Fit. The announcement in this area that caught my eye the most though was Samsung’s new cord-free earbuds, the Galaxy Buds. With sound powered by audio masters AKG (a subsidiary of Samsung). They boast respectable battery life, capable of 6 hours of Bluetooth and five hours of phone calls, but one of my favorite things about the Galaxy Buds is the charging options. Samsung says the earbuds’ case holds a charge for up to 7 hours and can juice the Galaxy Buds with a 15-minute quick charge for an additional 1.7 hours. Even cooler, thanks to device-to-device power-sharing, you can charge your Galaxy Buds simply by setting them on the back of your Galaxy S10.

Other features include integration with Bixby and Enhanced Ambient Sound which allows you to distinctly hear what’s going on around you when the Buds are in your ears. So far, I have enjoyed my experiences with Buds and are a step up from its predecessor for sure. I like that I don’t look like a pirate with earrings and unless you see me from the direct side angle, can’t see I have them in my ears.  I have not has a chance to exercise in them yet to see if they stay in my ears like Airpods do.

Wrapping up

All in all, it was quite an Unpacked for Samsung, with plenty of flashy new products to get excited about. I believe Samsung did more than enough with the S10 line to incentivize Galaxy 8 owners to upgrade, and probably even some Galaxy 9 owners who just want to have the best traditional smartphone on the market. I am confident the S10 line will sell better than the S9 and maybe even the S8. The Fold and S10 5G were icing on the cake, showing that Samsung is indeed the company driving new innovations and excitement to the smartphone market. Unpacked 2019 was certainly the best Unpacked I have attended and is up there with one of the best events I have ever attended. Nice work, Samsung.

Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.  

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Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.